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Wind Power Operating, Maintenance Costs Drop 38 Percent
11/28/2012

The costs of wind power are falling, not only for turbine cost and performance, but also for operating and maintaining wind farms. Shown here, Siemens service engineers work in a wind turbine's gondola.   (Source: Siemens)
The costs of wind power are falling, not only for turbine cost and performance, but also for operating and maintaining wind farms. Shown here, Siemens service engineers work in a wind turbine's gondola.
(Source: Siemens)

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naperlou
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economics getting better
naperlou   11/28/2012 10:50:49 AM
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Ann, that is an interesting point you raise.  As costs come down, the payback period will shorten. 

Actually, I was visiting a cousin who has a farm in central Illinois.  As we were driving to lunch one day I noticed the one wind turbine in the area.  On asking him about it, he said the problem was the payback period on them.  I guess some people get paid rent to allow tuebines to be sited on their land (like farming rents) while others get involved in the financing of the turbines. Even for turnines to power the farm itself, he said that these are way too expensive to be worth it.  These guys are very practical and hard headed.  If it does not make sense they don't do it.  They are also generally well educated, informed and tech savvy these days.  They have to be. 

On a related issue, I asked him about corn stalks for ethanol production.  They were all still laying around his farm and all the others in the area.  I guess the problem is that they have to bundled to be sold to the processors.  As long as crop prices are so high because of international demand it will not be worth the extra time and effort for the farmer to do this. 

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: economics getting better
Ann R. Thryft   11/28/2012 11:32:05 AM
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Thanks for your comment, Lou. Since most of the technical and manufacturing efforts for wind turbines right now appear to be aimed at making them in high volumes for wind farms, I'm not surprised that an individual agricultural farmer finds a single wind turbine impractical and payback is slow. It doesn't sound like the rental model is working very well for the individual farmer, but that model could, of course, be tweaked to make it more attractive and productive.

Jerry dycus
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Re: economics getting better
Jerry dycus   11/28/2012 3:08:47 PM
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               That WT's in small sizes are not really cost effective is because of greed, bad busines model or something else as I can make them for well under $1k/kw vs the $4k/kw most units cost now.

 

             Remember they perfected them in the 30's!!!!  Many of them are still running like the Jacob's and others.

 

             A 2k WT enough to run an eff home in an average wind site is more simple than a moped!!  So why are they so expensive?  I see a great market with large profits I'l be filling within a yr.  I can get 200% profit and still beat the others by 50% and even beat the Chinese. 

              I did go into production of some in the late 70's but the market wasn't there but it is now for a quality unit.

 

              Done right they need little maintaining other than a yrly check and new bearings every 3-5 yrs if designed and built right.

 

Nancy Golden
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Re: economics getting better
Nancy Golden   11/28/2012 3:46:16 PM
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Every time I drive through West Texas I wonder why we don't hear more about energy from wind farms - they are certainly out there and at least in Texas there are many more than a single turbine on the occasional farm...seems like these technologies have been around a long time (like solar) but are extremely slow moving. Some folks are fascinated by renewable energy and are determined to live "off the grid" but it just doesn't seem to be very popular in the mass market place...

NadineJ
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Re: economics getting better
NadineJ   11/28/2012 5:49:16 PM
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You make a good point.  The ROI increases as more users/buyers invest.  I'm curious to know how the savings break down.  Has the initial cost dropped significantly or just operating?  Or, is long-term maintenance where the significant savings are?

Where the savings lie makes a difference for future investors. 

And, on a separate note, better design would help lesson the NIMBY factor.  Many communities still fight against wind farms as a visual blight.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: economics getting better
Ann R. Thryft   11/28/2012 5:57:11 PM
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Nadine, I like your point about visual appeal, or lack thereof. They are not fun to look at, although the ones in California I've seen tend to be located away from people.

mr88cet
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Re: economics getting better
mr88cet   11/29/2012 9:23:12 AM
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I personally have no concerns about the appearance of modern windmills.  I don't understand why anybody would find them aesthetically intrusive.  I find their slow steady turns fascinating to watch! 

jmiller
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Re: economics getting better
jmiller   11/29/2012 10:20:37 PM
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One might not be intrusive. But typically the windmills are built in groups of 10+ in small clusters.  It definitely changes the horizon.  Especially since they tend to be put in areas with high average winds, which typically have few trees, which means these things are seen for miles.

Charley468
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Re: economics getting better
Charley468   11/29/2012 9:30:13 AM
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I am glad to see that the price is dropping, but you did not say anything about storage. How can wind generation amount to more than a couple percent without some way to store the generated energy?
When the wind stops, is it not true that the generator draws energy from the grid to keep it warm, to spin it up as the wind increases, control circuits, etc.?
And with absolutely no energy storage there must be a coal /gas / ?? always running at 100% to pick up the complete load within a couple cycles of the wind dropping (or cloud crossing the sun).

Without storage solar and wind (even if the hardware were free) can never amount to more than 10% of energy needs. True, we could put up enough generators and solar panels to cover all demands... momentarily, but night comes when no panel works, and days come when even the Santa Ana winds don't blow.

We need storage to be a viable energy source.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: economics getting better
Ann R. Thryft   12/3/2012 11:48:54 AM
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Thanks for your comments about storage, Charley468. I agree, it's an important issue, but not one that this study addressed. Jerry, thank you also for your inputs on the storage issue.

jmiller
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Re: economics getting better
jmiller   11/29/2012 10:30:37 PM
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Being in the midwest I know that the payback period is still so long that most farmers are not jumping at the chance to put that money in now for something that will take so long to pay back.

However, several farmers do like the idea of renting some area to someone else for the wind rights so to speak.  It allows them to have a steady year round income.

Regarding the cornstalks.  There are still quite a few hurdles.  While some will spend the money to bale the stalks and then take them to be processed.  The are taking valuable nutrients from the stalk off of the land that will later need to be replaced by fertilizers.

All and all I think progress is being made and eventually they will be able to process more and more and then replace more and more efficiently, but it is still relatively new.

Rob Spiegel
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Competitive with gas
Rob Spiegel   11/28/2012 4:35:32 PM
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Nice article, Ann. That's quite impressive that wind is becoming competitive with gas and coal, especially with gas costs moving so low. This is very good news for alternative fuels.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Competitive with gas
Ann R. Thryft   11/28/2012 4:43:14 PM
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Thanks, Rob, I agree about the good news. I find Jerry's input about what I expected, meaning, here's a technology that's not too expensive and it's been around a long time, but has not seen mass adoption. I think much of the reason has little to do with economics or technology, and more to do with psychology. It's the early adopters vs the mass market, as we've seen in many industries, most notably personal electronics. And not that many people live on farms or in the country anymore.



jmiller
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Re: Competitive with gas
jmiller   11/29/2012 10:34:14 PM
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Often farms are being bought by investers who hope to own the land for a few years and sell it off, or by families who's parents farmed and then are waiting to sell the land when the markets at its peak.  Either way people are not always ready to put windmills on the land because they fear it might decrease the value.

jmiller
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Re: Competitive with gas
jmiller   11/29/2012 10:34:30 PM
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Often farms are being bought by investers who hope to own the land for a few years and sell it off, or by families who's parents farmed and then are waiting to sell the land when the markets at its peak.  Either way people are not always ready to put windmills on the land because they fear it might decrease the value.

etmax
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Why not more wind farms?
etmax   11/29/2012 9:54:55 AM
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The best projections of the viability of intermittant renewables such as wind and solar are around 10-15% of the available power required. As others have said, it simply needs storage to get past that 15%. I love reneawables, but I acknowledge the problem.

OLD_CURMUDGEON
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WOW! WIND POWER ...... Who'd a thunk?????
OLD_CURMUDGEON   11/29/2012 10:26:41 AM
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This IS absolutely fantastic news.  I can't full digest the fact that the scientists & surveyors have located this less expensive cache of reliable wind!  

We'll finally be able to wean ourselves off those nasty legacy fuels, petroleum & coal!

Mark my words!  In a short time it WILL be disclosed that the U.S. has the greatest natural supply of wind than any other country on the face of the Earth, but a minor problem may exist in that they will have to "frack" it from one specific area, notably, WASHINGTON, D.C.

Of course, there will be those detractors that will claim it will be environmentally irresponsible to frack in such a densely populated area, but the gov't will somehow find a way to offset that with an energy tax credit.  

Rob Spiegel
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Re: WOW! WIND POWER ...... Who'd a thunk?????
Rob Spiegel   11/29/2012 10:54:01 PM
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Now that's funny, Old_Curmudgeon. This is good news, however, that wind power is becoming more viable.

OLD_CURMUDGEON
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Re: WOW! WIND POWER ...... Who'd a thunk?????
OLD_CURMUDGEON   11/30/2012 7:44:59 AM
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Rob,

At least YOU did see the humour in my post.  I was shocked to read so many of the newer ones that kept to the main topic without comment of my sarcasm.  Only one other blogger referenced my note.

To me the saddest part of this "energy problem" is that fracking has been a technology in use for the better part of SIXTY years.  To read the current news reports or listen to the items on the news programs, one would think that the industry just invented this technology yesterday, which proves how the mass media's into a debate CAN & DOES influence the discussion& outcome.

Finally, ALL of these discussions of "energy" NEVER consider one very basic Law of Physics, which, if I'm NOT mistaken was authored by MADONNA (or maybe Lindsey Lohan??) ......... 

"ENERGY CAN NOT BE CREATED OR DESTROYED.  It can only be changed from one form to another."

Rob Spiegel
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Re: WOW! WIND POWER ...... Who'd a thunk?????
Rob Spiegel   11/30/2012 10:03:40 AM
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Old_Curmudgeon, I'm one of those who was under the impression that fracking was new. If it's been around so long, why has it not been used? Let me guess: when oil was $20 dollars per barrel, fracking wasn't worth the trouble.

OLD_CURMUDGEON
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Re: WOW! WIND POWER ...... Who'd a thunk?????
OLD_CURMUDGEON   11/30/2012 10:43:39 AM
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Rob,

This information about "fracking" is not something that I researched myself.  However, I DID hear a comment very recently regarding this technology, and the person making that comment stated unequivocally that it dates back approx. 60 years.  Now, maybe it is that your thought is correct, when oil was $20 bbl, it was economically unfeasible to invest in that technology, BUT now that it hovers around $100/bbl., it HAS become the technology du jour!  Also, I'm NOT sure about the ultimate goal of fracking ...... is it to obtain heretofore unrecoverable oil reserves, OR is it to obtain natural gas reserves? 

One final thought which I also heard in the last few days regarding petroleum supplies.  It seems that investigators (exactly WHO these people are I don't know) have uncapped some very old domestic wells spread throughout the Texas / Oklahoma region, which were previously declared "empty", and have found that they are now averaging about ONE HALF FULL again!!  So, WHAT does that mean?  Is the global oil reserves really a result of eons of decayed dinosaurs, flora, etc., OR is it a naturally replenishing resource from all the modern decayed flora & fauna?  Personally I have NO opinion since I am very unknowledgeable in the minutiae of this field, BUT it may be something for the philosophers amongst us to contemplate on a deep level.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: WOW! WIND POWER ...... Who'd a thunk?????
Rob Spiegel   11/30/2012 1:32:14 PM
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 These are interesting questions, Old_Curmudgeon. As for fracking, the procedure is being used for both oil and gas. And I've also heard about the old oil wells replenishing. In looking at the stories on this, nobody seems to know why old wells have replenished.

bob from maine
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Re: WOW! WIND POWER ...... Who'd a thunk?????
bob from maine   11/30/2012 11:01:31 AM
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Fracking or fracturing and expanding the microcracks in the rock within an oil deposit using high-pressure steam has been used for years. It has also been used in expanding the cracks in water wells using dry-ice to increase yield. I'm not sure I'm in support of fracking in Washington as they already seem separated enough. Perhaps the application of some glue would help. The aspect of fracking we're hearing so much about today involves the injection of chemicals that dilute the thick oil and those chemicals might get into the water table. Luckily we no longer need deal with the NIMBY crowd as they have been replaced by the BANANA (build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything) crowd, apparently they've expanded their horizons.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: WOW! WIND POWER ...... Who'd a thunk?????
Rob Spiegel   11/30/2012 1:42:48 PM
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Bob from Maine, do you have a view on whether fracking has negative environmental effects?

OLD_CURMUDGEON
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Re: WOW! WIND POWER ...... Who'd a thunk?????
OLD_CURMUDGEON   11/30/2012 2:23:50 PM
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Bob,

Be careful WHO you seek information from regarding fracking's (possibly negative)environmental impact.  Just as in so many cases in the past 30 or so years, you'll find some very staunch opponents who base  their convictions on alchemy, and will not be convinced even by acknowledged nonpartisan scientific experts.  That's probably one main reason why I've always trusted instruments for accurate answers vs. human beings.  Instruments & domestic animals share one IMPORTANT trait ..... they're incapable of Rationalization!  Humans, NOT SO!

 

Rob Spiegel
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Re: WOW! WIND POWER ...... Who'd a thunk?????
Rob Spiegel   11/30/2012 5:25:55 PM
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Good points, Old_Curmudgeon. Let the data tell the story. There has been some anecdotal stories of gas coming out of water pipes near fracking. Others say that's nonsense. Ultimately, data will tell the story.

bob from maine
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Re: WOW! WIND POWER ...... Who'd a thunk?????
bob from maine   11/30/2012 2:43:01 PM
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IF you consider that it is always POSSIBLE for chemicals to seep from an ostensibally sealed pipe under thousands of pounds of pressure, through a seemingly geologically isolated strata and mix with an underground aquifer, and further that the possibility seems somehow proportional to the qualification and motivation of the PEOPLE doing the work, then yes, there is a possible hazard. The chemicals are not suitable for human consumption. The aquifer, once compromised cannot be either isolated or recovered in situ. We daily depend on research done by scientists and machinery and processes developed and implemented by engineers to protect us from serious and often fatal occurances. We rely on their judgement of what constitutes "acceptable risk" and most of us (but not all) are comfortable with that. There is no possibility of debate when using emotion to discuss scientific issues (thus speaks an ex politician). Yes, there is risk; No, most of us have no or limited concept of the science involved.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: WOW! WIND POWER ...... Who'd a thunk?????
Rob Spiegel   11/30/2012 5:31:14 PM
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Good points, Bob from Maine. The data doesn't seem to be in when it comes to the possibility of fracking polluting water. Generally, the fracking is well below the water aquifers.

OLD_CURMUDGEON
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Re: WOW! WIND POWER ...... Who'd a thunk?????
OLD_CURMUDGEON   12/3/2012 7:51:52 AM
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Rob, Bob from Maine:

There's another point to consider regarding the investing of "foreign" compounds into the soil to act as a detergent.  One need look no further than the evidence that has been amassed regarding the trace levels of so many different patent medicines which have been identified in the public water supplies, lakes, rivers, underground aquefers, etc.  Researchers have identified almost the full range of these products from aspirin to estrogen compounds.

We are constantly reminded by the "health" industry why it is important to drink several glass of water per day, yet in doing so, we may actually be precipitating some negative health condition in the future.

NOTHING that occurs on the face of this Earth, occurs in a "vacuum", and as such, it is imperative that people everywhere realize this!  For every effect, there IS a cause!  The challenge has always been to recognize & isolate those which ARE TRULY beneficial, and those which ARE TRULY harmful.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: WOW! WIND POWER ...... Who'd a thunk?????
Ann R. Thryft   12/10/2012 3:59:27 PM
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bob from maine, thanks for your comments on the danger to aquifers. I live in a county with compromised aquifers: so far, no chemical poisoning, but definitely, ones with levels too low to sustain a growing population, and perhaps even to sustain a non-growing one. (Hence the discussions here about desalination). The point is, once we've messed them up, fahgeddaboutit for the future. I don't see how risking one's water supply is an "acceptable risk," in any sense of the term.

Ratsky
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Re: WOW! WIND POWER ...... Who'd a thunk?????
Ratsky   11/30/2012 12:16:27 PM
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...and also the laws of thermodynamics, that in essence state that conversion from one form to another is always less than 100% efficient. Further, entropy (the measure of all that UNRECOVERABLE heat energy lost in the conversion) MUST increase IN A CLOSED SYSTEM over time.  A lot of the nonsense stated in these fora ignores these facts, especially the "closed system" one.

Mr. Dyson, my post was supposed to make all aware of some areas that  have to be included in analyses IF they are intended to be rigorous and SCIENTIFIC.  I was NOT stating these were invalidators of any proposals, only that you cannot afford to ignore ANYTHING in an honest evaluation of them!  For centuries, the untrained have postulated all sorts of "perpetual motion" mechanisms that simply don't stand up to the rigor of the "closed system" analysis. 

Ratsky
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Re: WOW! WIND POWER ...... Who'd a thunk?????
Ratsky   11/30/2012 12:18:32 PM
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Sorry for the typo; I meant "Mr. DYCUS," not Dyson!  Age and arthritis have diminished my already minimal typing skills.

jmiller
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Re: WOW! WIND POWER ...... Who'd a thunk?????
jmiller   11/30/2012 10:34:26 PM
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You are right that energy cannot be destroyed.  However, friction is just one of many forms that decreases the amount of stored energy that can be removed from storage.  And from what I have read there are not very efficient ways to store energy.  Often when energy is stored a percentage of that energy is lost.

Critic
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Storage
Critic   11/29/2012 11:06:24 AM
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It is great to read that the cost of generating electrical power from wind is falling, but YEP, I agree, wind is not 100% available.  It changes with location, season, time of day, and weather.  We will never be able to rely on wind or solar energy completely until we develop a cost-effective means to store energy. 

Jerry dycus
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Re: Storage
Jerry dycus   11/29/2012 7:20:14 PM
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Critic, Charley and other storage posters

  Storage is a strawman arguement that has no merit.    Why is any energy put in is used then as it always has.  The utility   adjusts just like it does to demand and has for 100 yrs  which is far more variable than wind supply is.

Plus big wind doesn't just stop but ramps down, up and as more wind is added over larger areas it averages out.

I don't see anyone talking about when nukes scram which happens far more often than most realize cutting a whole GW in a second!!  Yet utilities handle that many x's/yr.  Isn't GW in 1 second far worse than 50MW's of wind in the worse case over 15 minutes? 

 Doesn't NG generators now  throttle to 50% power with good eff solve any precieved problems with either supply or demand?

We have multiple storage that is under $10/kw yet how come almost none of it is used on the grid?

Ratsky, your point on tidal is so bad I won't say to be polite.  Tidal happens every day 2-4times and in different places happens at different times.  Renewable means it continues and has nothing to do with the amount though it is huge.  So why are you making that very wrong point? One would have to say you have some sort of bias to say such  obvious misinformation.

Your point is RE causes climate modification is laughable.  A WT cause no more problem than a hill of the same size. Solar has no  change either. Tidal like others is so tiny to be ignored as less than similar size natural obstructions, etc.  Or are you blaming rocks underwater, hills above for climate change?

All these pale compared to fossil fuels and their damage to climate and economies because of the damage they do which is foisted off into YOUR taxes. So I assume you like your taxes raised from having to clean up their mess, pollution deaths, air, land and water destruction  and economic recessions from oil price shocks plus protecting international oil companies for free be my guest but  I think otherwise.

 

 

 

 

 

jmiller
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Re: Storage
jmiller   11/29/2012 10:24:46 PM
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So your argument against storage being a problem is to say the grid just handles it and there's not an issue.  I think the main question is how do we collect wind energy on the 200 or so days when it is windy and use it during all 365 days of the year.  We are not necessarily talking about spikes but wind generation that is just not constant.

Jerry dycus
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Re: Storage
Jerry dycus   11/30/2012 5:13:19 AM
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jmiller,

 We handle wind variability the same way we handle grid demand variability plus now NG units can be throttled.  What part of that didn't you get?

Ratsky
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Unintended consequences??
Ratsky   11/29/2012 12:14:39 PM
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I've noticed a severe lack of in-depth studies on the secondary effects of so many alternative energy "solutions."   Examples: I've observed huge numbers of dense arrays of windmill/s/turbines (most recently in the I-55 corridor in central Illinois, and in eastern Germany).  These are obviously located in extremely low population density areas; however, the energy produced is generally consumed (and eventually turned back into heat energy!) in high population density areas far away.  Logically, this is equivalent to transfer of entropic energy to places already contributing far more than the average density of same globally.  Could this actually result in WEATHER/CLIMATE MODIFICATION?  I would guess that soemwhere around 100% of the fervent supporters of "alternatiive energy" are also extremely concerned with what is now referred to as "Man-caused Cilmate Modification."  Is there a reason this possibility is ignored?  The same applies to most other forms of alternative energy, including geothermal and tidal.     50 years ago, I was part of a research project at MIT looking into alternative energy.  The one I chose to investigate was exploitation of the ocean thermocline (Google it, no room to explain here!).  I proposed using thermoelectric piles composed of platinum and carbon, chosen because of relative chemical inertness. Then there is the economic analysis ("Engineering Economics" was  a REQUIRED course back then). The ocean deeps are not exactly a benign environment chemically!  I calculated the rate of erosion of the Pt electrodes.  Even at the then-price of Pt @ $50/troy ounce (31g), the lifecycle cost of the Pt was far greater than the value of the total lifelime energy produced!

Ratsky
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And furthermore...
Ratsky   11/29/2012 12:25:56 PM
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If you perform a true systems analysis of tidal energy, you'd realize that this is absolutely NOT "renewable" as it utilizes a finite resource: the angular momentum of the Moon!  Way too many "true believers" simply wear blinders, or are ignorant of the complexities of reality, or just find it inconvenient to consider this truth (NO apologies to Al Gore, BTW!).  Of course, the previous posting applies equally well to solar.


A "well-done" to my colleague old_curmudgeon for the "fracking" reference, BTW.  I've seen HUNDREDS of posts on various topics in DN extolling the virtues of "natural gas" that ignore the only reason it is by far the most economic source of energy is the widespread use of new fracking techniques.  Personally, I find the trade-offs in fracking quite acceptable; however, if challenged, I suspect the vast majority of the AE proponents here would avoid this factor!

Thinking_J
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The subject is maintenance.. not alternative power
Thinking_J   11/29/2012 1:51:28 PM
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Many of the older wind turbine designs are maintenance "hogs".

- eddy currents in generators requiring slip rings created etched pits in the bearings of the generators... Newer designs don't have this problem. (not an issue with REALLY old induction systems - too bad they have such limited operating speed range)

- generator or transmission replacement required large cranes on older designs. This was a MAJOR expense. Newest designs don't require this.

- Newer blade designs require less maintenance. And what maintenance required will likely be automated - as noted.

- Newer designs have much better SCADA systems for remote monitoring.

In a industry (power generation) that is exceptionally risk adverse, this means they will start to view future investments in a more positive light. Maintenance costs of older turbine installations have given the industry a bad taste concerning "true" costs.

Yes .. alternative energy sources will require some new breakthroughs in energy storage to become a larger part of the energy "pie"... likely required in future regardless of energy source.

By the way... the photo caption appears to be wrong. The techs are in a nacelle. Gondolas are something very different (specific boat design or under a balloon/airship or suspended cable car). Worked in the industry - never heard someone refer to the nacelle as a gondola.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: The subject is maintenance.. not alternative power
Ann R. Thryft   12/3/2012 11:50:32 AM
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Thinking_J, thanks for the input about what's behind the previous separate price drops due to better turbine performance and design. FYI, the photo caption info was taken directly from Siemens, the providers of the photo and of the wind system.
OLD_CURMIDGEON, the reason O&M costs dropped 38%was because the providers dropped their prices due to increased competition, as the article states.

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Next Class: April 29 - Day 1
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